I was not going to post today, but I came across this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and it resonated with me. She wrote about language’s paradoxical power and fragility. Even though we may use the same words, they each mean something different to each of us based on our culture, history, and personal experiences. We have to be mindful and attentive to our use of language. It speaks to our character in the story we narrate through the words we choose and share with others.
Language possesses the power to bridge differences. The fragility lies in the idea that we can only hope language bridges differences.
The opening lines remind me of the etymological roots of companion, meaning to break bread with others on a journey, but, in this instance, it is a fragile journey. The food and tea do not taste quite right under the circumstances.
The last stanza speaks about holding words delicately and pressing our lips on each syllable as we are kissing them, hence the title of the poem.
I break this toast for the ghost of bread in Lebanon.
The split stone, the toppled doorway.
Someone’s kettle has been crushed.
Someone’s sister has a gash above her right eye.
And now our tea has trouble being sweet.
A strawberry softens, turns musty,
overnight each apple grows a bruise.
I tie both shoes on Lebanon’s feet.
All day the sky in Texas which has seen no rain since June
is raining Lebanese mountains, Lebanese trees.
What if the air grew damp with the names of mothers,
the clear belled voices of first-graders
pinned to the map of Lebanon like a shield?
When I visited the camp of the opposition
near the lonely Golan, looking northward toward
Syria and Lebanon, a vine was springing pinkly from a tin can
and a woman with generous hips like my mother’s
said Follow me.
Someone was there.
Someone not there now was standing.
Someone in the wrong place
with a small moon-shaped scar on his left cheek
and a boy by the hand.
Who had just drunk water, sharing the glass.
Who had not thought about it deeply
though they might have, had they known.
Someone grown and someone not-grown.
Who thought they had different amounts of time left.
This guessing game ends with our hands in the air,
One who was there is not there, for no reason.
Two who were there.
It was almost too big to see.
Our friend from Turkey says language is so delicate
he likens it to a darling.
We will take this word in our arms.
It will be small and breathing.
We will not wish to scare it.
Pressing lips to the edge of each syllable.
Nothing else will save us now.
The word “together” wants to live in every house.